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Election nostalgia (2)

On election day, my mother sent  me to my Cruz grandmother who lived on Valenzuela Street in Santa Mesa; she had to make the rounds of polling places with my stepfather.  Everyone was expecting massive fraud and violence, the apprehension was palpable. In hindsight, I think we were all conditioned to expect the worst, but  as it turned out, Pres. Quirino had fallen ill and was in  hospital during the campaign, in painful contrast to his energetic, young rival who was photographed all over the countryside, mobbed by adoring masses who tore  at his shirt; they couldn’t have enough of Ramon Magsaysay.

Radio commentators made hysterical reports about Mindanao where even the birds, bees, and the dead were voting. For the first time, I heard the term “flying voters.”  As the counting began, my cousins and I were glued to the radio; my enthusiasm must have been contagious. We listened to Francisco Soc Rodrigo’s insightful commentaries while waiting for electoral results that arrived in spurts and trickles.    At bedtime, they were still counting but it was obvious that “My Guy” was well on his way to becoming the new president.  An aunt became rather annoyed at all the noise we children were making; she had to go to work the next day and ordered us to turn off the radio.  With sweet defiance, we begged grandma to allow us to wait for the results and in a drowsy monotone; she ordered Auntie,  “Pabayaan mong makinig ang mga bata…”

Once, at the Santa Mesa HQ, I saw some newshens reading a magazine  and commenting on an article titled “Cold War” in bold red letters.  I did not know that the world had been divided between the USA and the USSR, that it had become bi-polar.  That was probably why the presidential election was so  crucial. Neither did I know that the secretary of national defense whom we all wanted to be the next president had been “anointed” by the USA. When Ramon Magsaysay won, the Philippines became the “showcase of democracy,” the heartland of freedom in a vast region that was supposed to be turning red, communist red, according to America’s perspective.  Later, in college, I learned about the “domino theory”; the dominoes were Sukarno  (Indonesia), Norodom Sihanouk (Cambodia), Ho Chi  Minh (Vietnam), Souvanna Phouma (Laos), members  all of the “Non-Aligned Movement” that saw light in Bandung, Indonesia. If one of them were to fall into communist hands,  the rest  would follow, like “dominoes.”  Ramon Magsaysay as  president of the Philippines was the veritable advance guard that would reverse the menacing red tide.

After Magsaysay’s inauguration, Mrs. Luz Banzon Magsaysay, the First Lady, invited the newshens of the Santa Mesa HQ to tea at the “Pangrap” guesthouse in Malacanang. My mother brought me along; she felt I deserved it and we had a photo taken with Mrs. Magsaysay. Soon after, my uncle, Leon Ma. Guerrero, was appointed undersecretary of foreign affairs and his immediate boss, Raul Manglapus, secretary of foreign affairs, was also an uncle from the Cruz side of the family.

The press lionized Tito Leoni and my grandmother lovingly   clipped and pasted all those articles in a special album. (She did the same for me when I became Miss Philippines and Miss International). There were dinner parties in the south wing of my grandfather’s house on Donada Street, which Tito Leoni and his wife Anita Corominas  occupied. I was not invited to any, so the morning after, I would wake up before the servants to rummage through bread baskets for half-eaten dinner rolls, fascinated by the detritus of  banquets I had missed.

Then the undersecretary was invited to  a university and his speech, “Asia for the Asians,” which he had not cleared with Pres. Magsaysay, immediately sparked a frightful controversy. The undersecretary of foreign affairs was echoing the spirit of Bandung, reprehensible in a Cold War setting! As a young lawyer, Leon Ma. Guerrero worked with Don Claro M. Recto, an outstanding nationalist; he was known as Recto’s “ideological protégé.” Significantly, Recto and other nationalistic political leaders did support Ramon Magsaysay, hoping to wrest him from American control.  Instead firing him unceremoniously, Pres. Magsaysay sent Tito Leoni to the Court of Saint James as the first Philippine ambassador to Great Britain and concurrently to the Scandanavian countries.  Pres. Ramon Magsaysay could not have chosen a more qualified Filipino for the post. Soon enough, I forgave him for sending my favorite uncle into exile and like all other Filipinos,I was devastated by his untimely demise.   I never regretted joining the “Magsaysay for President” campaign, but I have radically changed my mind about Pres. Elpidio Quirino and regret that at the height of that frenzied electoral campaign I had named a toy alligator EQ. Both presidents loved the country; both   were collateral damage of the Cold War.  (ggc1898@gmail.com)